2015-09-17 / Opinion


No Choice But To Trust

Government should use social media — e.g., Facebook, Twitter — in order to engage with the public, openly and frankly. In other words, social media ought to make open government, well, more-open.

Facebook has grown so big that it cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered an elite or illusive social media platform.

And it is reasonable to expect that public officials will use Facebook to promote their ideas — for good or for ill — and that ensuing online discussion will inform officials on policy to be decided upon in an open, physical meeting.

What would be unreasonable is for officials to use a closed Facebook group to discuss and form policy akin to a virtual, closed meeting held without any advance notice.

As of this writing, Sept. 16, Brunswick Community United's Facebook page is 619 members strong, and is still a closed group. Members include State Sen. Stan Gerzofsk and Brunswick’s new Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin. According to a recent Bangor Daily News story, members also include four each of the school board and town council.

Those councilors and board members “can't take action because it's not a quorum,” said the state's public access ombudsman, Brenda Kietly, as quoted in the BDB, before warning that some conversation on the board could potentially veer into the realm of “deliberations.”

“Government agencies are increasingly using social media to connect with those they serve,” according to the journal Government Information Quarterly. “These connections have the potential to extend government services, solicit new ideas, and improve decision-making and problem-solving. However, interacting via social media introduces new challenges related to privacy, security, data management, accessibility, social inclusion, governance, and other information policy issues. The rapid adoption of social media by the population and government agencies has outpaced the regulatory framework related to information, although the guiding principles behind many regulations are still relevant.”

To be clear, Brunswick Community United is not a government agency. However, the BDN article seems to indicate that there are enough elected officials holding forth on matters of public interest on the BCU page to raise an alarm, or at least a few eyebrows.

The town needs to form a social media policy that addresses these issues. And BCU must decide, in light of recent, negative press, how to move forward, and whether to heed the town attorney's warning not to let additional elected officials join, lest an online quorum form.

The smart thing now would be if BCU could open the group to everyone, if such a thing is possible under Facebook's rules.

The Times Record trusts that those serving in elected capacity are doing so with the town's best interest at heart.

We trust that elected officials abide by the law when they meet in closed, or “Executive,” sessions. We trust that, should officials gather informally at a celebration or other function, that their conversations are just that — conversations, as opposed to deliberations.

Until BCU uses a different forum, we will trust that elected officials continue police themselves and show similar restraint.

We have, of course, no other choice.

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